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The French National Assembly (AN) today adopted a bill on equality that leaves out a key amendment to curb police discrimination because it would have incurred costs, and the Finance Commission ruled such an amendment inadmissible on constitutional procedure grounds. The unwillingness of AN to grapple with this is a slap in the face for every young black or Arab French citizen who has been repeatedly stopped by the police because of what they look like or where they live.

Police officers perform an identity check and body pat-down of a young man in Paris, France on June 6, 2011. © 2011 Ludovic/Rea/Redux

The Finance Commission threw out the amendment that would have required police to record identity checks using stop forms – a written record of the event, including the legal grounds for the stop – saying that systematically recording the estimated 10 to 14 million identity checks per year would involve significant costs and there was no accompanying measure to cover the expenditure. Under direct pressure of Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve, parliamentarians also withdrew more modest proposals for limited experimentation of stop forms, and deeper legal reforms to limit police identity check powers. Parliamentarians did agree to experiment with video and audio recording of stops.

Ethnic profiling by the police in France is an enduring problem. I’ve spoken with dozens of black and Arab young men and boys who told me about frequent, arbitrary stops involving lengthy questioning, invasive body pat-downs, and the search of their personal belongings. A 2009 study by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the French National Center for Scientific Research found that in France, black people were six times as likely as white people, and Arabs almost eight times as likely, to be stopped.

As a candidate, now President François Hollande had pledged to end ethnic profiling, but his government has steadfastly opposed the introduction of stop forms, a simple yet effective way to measure stops and ensure accountability.

Anti-discrimination activists in France have launched an ironic campaign – #UnBicPourUnFlic – to donate pens to police officers. In the long run, the price of discrimination by police forces in terms of social inequalities and suspicion towards authorities is certainly far greater than an investment in stop forms.  

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